The Good Place S2: Is hell other people?
Logline: What happens when a total jerk goes to forking heaven (or is it)?
Complete spoilers for The Good Place follow.
Michael Schur’s brilliantly subversive and whimsical laugh riot The Good Place goes from strength to strength in its second season. Following the finale bombshell revelation in the first season, Schur and his team of top writers are fully committed to tearing up the rulebook when it comes to composing peak TV.
The second season follows complete jerk of the logline Eleanor (Kristen Bell) alongside goody-two-shoes Chidi (William Jackson Harper), gala overachiever Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and gormless Floriduhan Jason (Manny Jacinto) as they struggle against a complete and total existential fork-up. Each episode, it seems, they unravel new truths about their place in eternal hell and either team up with, or are manipulated by, Michael (Ted Danson at his demonic best).
The Good Place season 2 took the much-maligned “reset” narrative and ran headfirst into dismantling all the previous drama and power into an infectiously brilliant concoction unafraid to make the first season pale in comparison.
Every episode proves The Good Place brave enough to change entire dynamics and relationships without hesitation. Any character’s memory could be erased at any moment, and yet they still manage to develop. The show presents an odd quandary, where at any minute the puppeteer could reset the leads back to square one. Schur and company are determined to build a narrative about how change does not happen to characters, but is inherently within them. Eleanor will always find the truth, and Jason will always marry Janet – those are their postvivial destinies.
The standout episode so far, “Dance Dance Resolution”, is from writer Megan Amram (Parks and Recreation) and cult film darling Drew Goddard (The Martian). At its center is a tour-de-force performance from Ted Danson as middle manager demon Michael, who struggles through hundreds of attempts of his version of “the good place”, descending all the while into the ambient eternal loop of pain and anxiety. Michael’s idea is to make the human beings torture each other for all of eternity – and to squeeze out more fun from the potential of his personally designed bad place – but instead becomes part of the torture.
The episode has Eleanor (and occasionally other leads) figuring out the lie of the place 802 times, brought to life across a hilarious action-packed montage. At one point Michael shockingly protests, “Jason figured it out? Jason! Oh man, this one hurts.” It’s an arc charting the true existential terror and hilarity at play within the show – perhaps the best piece of television we’ve watched this year.
What began as a charmingly goofy take on Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (“hell is other people” . . . come on, read a book, people) has instead morphed into a comedic beast stretching its own structure and ideas about narrative logic all in the service of a postmodernist laugh-a-minute romp. The Good Place is incrementally cementing its place in the hallowed pantheon of subversive, groundbreaking television and we’re more than happy to witness it.
The Good Place is more than good. It’s forking great.